Discover Behavioural Theory of Leadership and Know if it is Still Relevant Today

Discover Behavioural Theory of Leadership and Know if it is Still Relevant Today

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Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager
Updated on Aug 14, 2023 18:31 IST

The Behavioural Leadership Theory emphasises adaptable leadership styles, crucial for addressing team conflicts, managing remote work transitions, enhancing diversity initiatives, and promoting employee well-being. Learn how it has evolved and why it is important to understand in our times.

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The behavioural leadership theory is a broadly researched concept. It is one of the important leadership theories that emerged around the mid-1940s. During that time, behavioural science began to be studied as a complex system covering physical and social sciences. 

Researchers and businesspeople have collated behaviours into groups and categories based on leadership styles to explain effective leader behaviour. Some well-known categories include directive, supportive, achievement-oriented, and participatory. 

There is no single behavioural theory of leadership. There are multiple, each belonging to a specific era of leadership thought research and development. 

Today, we will discuss more than one behavioural leadership theory and the different approaches within this broad school. 

Explaining Behavioural Theory of Leadership

The behavioural theory of leadership takes into specific patterns of behaviour that leaders demonstrate. Succeeding the trait theory of leadership, it replaced such earlier concepts that a leader’s qualities are inborn with trainable or learnable behaviours. In this regard, a successful leader acts in a particular way and leads a group effectively. Their innate nature is not a determiner of their success like the Great Man theory, but of what actions they take. 

Behavioural leadership is sometimes known as the ‘style theory of leadership’. It comprises recognisable and predictable leader behaviours based on adaptable styles. What this suggests is that a leader could learn to adapt to different styles.

An example could be that the leader can provide clear directions, offer support, actively listen to team members, and make decisions. 

The Behaviour Era in Leadership Theories

Albert S King, Professor from Northern Illinois University, identifies ‘nine evolutionary eras’ of leadership theories. The behavioural leadership theory falls in the third era. 

Era Theories and Studies
Personality Era Great Man Theory; Trait Theory (1800s to 1920s)
Influence Era Power Relations; Persuasion Period (1920s to 1950s)
Behaviour Era Ohio State Studies, Michigan State Studies; Managerial Grid Model (1950s to 1970s)
Situation Era Open-Systems Model; Role Attainment Theory (1940s to 1970s)
Contingency Era Situational Leadership Theory; Normative Theory (1960s to 1980s) 
Transactional Era  Emergent Leadership; Role Making Model (1950s to 1970s)
Anti-Leadership Era Leadership Substitute Theory (1970s)
Culture Era McKinsey 7S Model, Self-Leadership (1980s)
Transformational Era Performance Beyond Expectations Approach; Charismatic Theory (1980s)

As you can observe from this table, the studies on different categories of leadership are not exactly chronological. They are simultaneous. 

3 Behavioural Leadership Theories to Know

Let us explain the three main theories of leadership based on behaviour. 

Ohio State Studies 

The Ohio State Studies on Behavioural Leadership contributed significantly to leadership research. These studies aimed to explore and understand leadership behaviours and their effects on organisational performance and employee satisfaction. 

Related Read: Importance of Leadership

Conducted at Ohio State University in the 1940s, the studies played a pivotal role in shaping the development of leadership theories.

The Ohio State Studies identified two distinct dimensions of leadership behaviour. They created the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ) that included 150 statements on leadership actions. Respondents rated frequency on a five-point scale. Based on that, the researchers formulated two dimensions. 

Consideration 

This dimension refers to a leader’s concern for building positive relationships with team members. Leaders who exhibit high consideration are supportive, approachable, and attentive to the needs and well-being of their followers. They focus on creating a positive and cooperative work environment.

This type of leadership behaviour resembles close to the democratic leadership style. 

Initiating Structure 

This dimension pertains to the extent to which a leader is task-oriented and focuses on organising, planning, and setting clear goals. Leaders with a high degree of initiating structure emphasise task completion, clarification of roles, and the establishment of procedures and expectations.

This area of behaviour was close to the scientific management theory as proposed by Frederick Taylor. 

Michigan State Studies

Following Ohio State Studies, another study on leadership behaviour at Michigan State University in the 1950s was conducted. This approach further led to developing Hersey Blanchard Model (Situational Leadership Theory). The model proposed two styles of leadership. 

Employee-Centred Leadership (Relationship-Oriented)

This style emphasises building strong relationships with team members. Leaders who adopt this style are concerned with creating a supportive and cohesive work environment. 

They greatly consider their employees’ well-being, satisfaction, and development.

Production-Centred Leadership (Task-Oriented)

This style focuses on achieving high task accomplishment, efficiency, and goal attainment. Leaders who exhibit this style emphasise clear organisation, goal setting, and effective management of tasks and resources.

Managerial Grid Model

This framework, developed by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton in the 1960s, is widely recognised for assessing and classifying leadership styles. 

There are two dimensions in this model. 

Concern for People (Y-Axis): This dimension reflects the leader’s level of consideration for team members’ well-being, needs, and satisfaction. Leaders high on this dimension prioritise creating positive relationships, open communication, and a supportive work environment.

Concern for Production or Results (X-Axis): This dimension measures the leader’s emphasis on achieving organisational goals, task completion, and performance. Leaders high on this dimension focus on efficiency, productivity, and goal attainment.

Source: MindTools

It identifies five types of leadership styles based on this focus: Impoverished Management, Produce-or-Perish Management, Middle-of-the-Road Management, Country Club Management, and Team Management. 

Impoverished Management  

This style represents a low concern for both people and production. Leaders with this style tend to be indifferent and detached, resulting in minimal effort invested in both employee well-being and task accomplishment.

Country Club Management 

Leaders with this style prioritize creating a harmonious and friendly work environment, placing high concern on people but low concern on production. While employee satisfaction may be high, task performance might suffer.

Produce or Perish  

In this style, leaders focus heavily on achieving production goals while neglecting the needs and morale of their team members. The emphasis is on task accomplishment at the expense of employee well-being.

Middle-of-the-Road Management 

This balanced style aims to maintain a moderate level of concern for both people and production. Leaders seek a compromise between achieving goals and maintaining positive relationships.

Team Management 

This ideal leadership style maximises both concern for people and concern for production. Leaders with this style strive to create a collaborative, supportive environment where team members’ needs and organisational goals are addressed effectively.

Benefits and Challenges of Behavioural Leadership Theory

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of behavioural leadership theory. 

Pros Cons
There is flexibility in choosing leadership styles. It may not fully capture the complexities of leadership. Emotions and cultural contexts are not important factors.
Behavioural leadership traits are learnable and teachable. It can place too much emphasis on leadership style at the expense of vision and strategy.
There are clear guidelines for leaders to follow in terms of how to interact with team members, set expectations, communicate, and provide feedback. Leaders might manipulate behaviours to create a certain perception without genuine underlying qualities. This could lead to insincere interactions and undermine trust within teams.

When is Behavioural Theory of Leadership Useful?

Here are some situations when behavioural leadership theory can be used. 

  • To address employee burnout, leaders can use behavioural theory by promoting work-life balance, setting realistic expectations, and offering support. By showing concern for employees’ well-being and managing workloads effectively, leaders can help prevent burnout.
  • Within leadership development programs, behavioural theory can be used to teach aspiring leaders about the importance of adaptable behaviours. Participants can learn how to adjust their leadership styles to suit different contexts, foster teamwork, and optimise performance.
About the Author
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Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio